Greg Campbell’s one-man play is a celebratory, gay coming-of-age story now onstage in Toronto
Out, by Greg Campbell and presented by Big Bappis Productions, now playing at Buddies in Bad Times, was a hit of the 2016 Fringe Festival, where it was chosen for Best of Fringe. It’s Campbell’s one-man, gay coming-of-age story (coming of gayge?) from 1977, as teenaged Glen attends Vanier College, hangs out with high school best friend Mario and college buddy Dimitri, and, dreaming of The Village People, attends the Gay Pride parade in NYC while satirizing anti-gay activist Anita Bryant.
Directed and dramaturged by Clinton Walker and effectively making use of much of Buddies’ cabaret space, Campbell plays all 20-plus characters with aplomb. He easily switches from dour Dimitri to effervescent Mario to the various members of his entire immediate family, and always looks like he’s having a heck of a lot of fun even in the slightly more serious moments. Detailing his formative experiences with the classic media touchstones, such as disco, musical theatre, Noël Coward, the Marys (Poppins and Hartman) and The Boys in the Band, he works with unceasing energy. The pace never lets up, and he never loses the thread or your interest in the well-crafted and thoroughly entertaining narrative with an emotionally satisfying ending.
There are only two female characters of note in the show, and since one is Anita Bryant being played by young Glen (and given a spectacular roasting, with some mild audience participation in a hilariously uncomfortable song), his mother is a particularly fascinating figure. I found her hinted-at story of ultimate quiet courage in the face of her abusive husband to be one worthy of more consideration in a plot arranged more traditionally as a clash between a father and son.
The all-too-brief light Campbell shines on his mother is typical of what keeps everything so comparatively frothy, which is that Campbell essentially anchors the play in the voice of a seventeen-year-old, full of discovery and full of himself, like most of us necessarily are at that age when going through identity upheaval. Many plays where a character comes of age are seen through the eyes of an older narrator, but Campbell’s piece, though somewhat nostalgic and certainly a preserved slice of time, feels more present than reflective.
This is one of its major tonal benefits: the piece is celebratory, fun, happy, which feels refreshing, echoing what one of the characters points out: not every gay story has to be tragic or self-hating. It’s also means that it’s very self-contained: bubbly because it’s about a relatively peaceful bubble.
Therefore, the fun of it all becomes perhaps most interesting when it slips into a slightly contemplative mood, its characters wrestling with themselves, how out they are willing to be and how much of their personalities they’ll let their sexuality define, what it means to be gay when you don’t fit into the subculture but also don’t want to be alone, and the hazards of searching for meaningful love in disposable ways.
While there could be more contemplation and less clubbing, Out is a entertaining ride from a very talented performer, and 80 minutes well spent.
- Out plays at Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander Street) until May 5, 2019.
- Shows run Tuesday-Saturday at 8:00PM, with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:30PM.
- Tickets are $20-25 and can be purchased online, by calling 416-975-8555, or at the Theatre Box Office. A limited amount of PWYC tickets for Sunday matinees can be purchased in cash at the box office starting at noon the day of the performance.
Photo of Greg Campbell by Tanja Tiziana